The American Birkebeiner is the premier cross-country skiing event in the United States–but you probably already knew that. Every February for the past 39 years, elite skiers from around the world descend on Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin, and face one of the most challenging courses on the World Loppet tour. Over the years, the race has attracted the best of the best in competitive cross-country skiing.
It was a great race this year, especially the womens 50K skate race, which came down to an all-out sprint up Mainstreet with less than a half-second seperating first and second places; but you can read about that lots of places. This time, I’d rather write about other Birkie things.
The Birkie isn’t a one-day event after all. Prior to the main races, the Birkebeiner and the Kortelopet, held each February, dozens of other Birkebeiner-related events are going on in the great north woods.
Hayward, and Cable too, are awash with athletes of all abilities, and families and sightseers and dedicated fans of cross-country skiing. All told, some 9300 skiers participated in the events. There are, of course, activities for kids, families, and casual observers–and even the media.
The Birkie is as much a week-long Northwoods festival and showcase as it is an elite sporting event.
This year, I was on hand to witness what may be the most entertaining event of Birkie week–The Barkie Birkie.
Held the Friday before the Birkebeiner, the Barkie Birkie is a skijoring race through the streets surrounding downtown Hayward.
For the uninitiated, skijoring involves cross-country skiing with the assistance of something other than your own muscles power. Basically you harness yourself to something theoretically faster than you are and ski.
That assistance can come from internal combustion engines, in the form of motorcycles, snowmobiles, or even autos, but usually the competitors choose four-legged help–horses sometimes, but mostly dogs.
The Barkie Birkie, as the name suggests, is reserved for dog-powered skiers.
Since almost all dogs, regardless of breed, will pull when given the chance, they make natural skijoring teammates. Of course, some breeds are specially bred to pull–think sled dogs like huskies and malamutes–but as the competition down Mainstreet in Hayward proves, anything with four legs will do.
You could call the Barkie Birkie an athletic competition, as some of the competitors really are trying hard to win the race. But mostly it’s just people, skiers and fans alike, having a great time with snow and dogs and skis. As a spectacle, I’d say it’s the most fun you can have on six legs.
Also, a complete gallery of Barkie Birkie images can be seen by clicking on any of the above photos.